Kevin Rector | Los Angeles Times
Seven children and two adult drivers were killed in a fiery head-on collision on a rural stretch of highway in Fresno County on New Year’s Day, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Officers were dispatched around 8 pm to a reported crash on Highway 33 between Coalinga and Avenal, and arrived to find a Ford vehicle – which had been carrying all of the children – “fully engulfed in flames,” said Officer Rory Marks, a CHP spokesman .
Marks said all of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene. None had been publicly identified as of Saturday.
A preliminary investigation and reconstruction based on physical evidence at the scene indicated a 2013 Dodge vehicle driven by a 28-year-old man from Avenal was southbound on Highway 33 (Lost Hills Road) just past Sutter Avenue when it veered onto the dirt shoulder for an unknown reason, Marks said.
The driver then “overcorrected,” and the Dodge traveled back across the southbound lanes and into the northbound lanes, where it collided head-on with a 2007 Ford driven by a woman, Marks said.
The Ford came to a stop in the eastern dirt shoulder, where it was engulfed in flames, while the Dodge came to a stop straddling the northbound and southbound lanes of the highway.
“When the fire was extinguished, it was discovered there were eight occupants in the Ford,” read the CHP crash report.
The models of the vehicles were not provided. The Ford only had six seatbelts.
The cause of the crash, and whether drugs or alcohol played a role, is still being investigated, Marks said. The report noted the speed of the two vehicles was undetermined, and that the weather at the time was “clear and dry.”
The seven children who were killed were “a range of ages,” he said. Their identities, as well as those of the two drivers, would be released pending identification and notification of family, he said.
Marks said the CHP is asking anyone who may have seen the accident occur to contact law enforcement.
“We don’t have any witnesses to it, other than the people who came upon it,” Marks said. “We are looking for help if anybody knows anything.”
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